Do you remember Balloon Boy? On October 15th, 2009, wacky failed inventor and aspiring TV personality Richard Heene phoned the local authorities and informed them that his son was missing and had likely lifted off in a prototype balloon. Soon after, Richard inflated just such a balloon and let it loose. Authorities closed the Denver Airport, sent helicopters after the balloon and conducted an extensive manhunt to try and find the young boy. The balloon eventually landed and the intrepid, young tyke was nowhere to be found. Hours after, the media reported that the boy had been found hiding in the rafters of the family’s attic. It soon came to light that the entire event had been an orchestrated hoax on the part of the Heenes. Richard and his wife were both sentenced to short jail terms, probation and ordered to pay restitution. Interestingly, the Heenes had previously featured on an episode of Wife Swap.
I flew into Edmonton on a Sunday night. Reaching my hotel close to midnight, I checked in and made sure my suit was passably unwrinkled for the next morning’s interview. At this point, I realized that I had neglected to pack any ties. Generally, ties are a useful and necessary accessory to any successful suit. Being that it was so late, I realized that I would have to quickly find a tie outlet before my interview. As a point of general interest – most everything in downtown Edmonton opened no earlier than 10 AM. My interview was for 11, so I already felt the beginnings of stress seep into my mood. Nevertheless, I allowed myself a moment of hope – the interview and dinner that had gone so well in Hamilton (featured heavily in Part 4 of this series) was likely to bear fruit the very morning of my Edmonton interview. Indeed, because of the time difference, I had to set my alarm for 7 AM (Edmonton time) to be awake and ready for the standardized call times that the firms in Hamilton and southwestern Ontario abided by.
Grabbing some revolting junk food from a nearby 7-11, I returned to my hotel and got ready for bed. As I munched on beef jerky and salted peanuts, I pondered whether it was wise for me to have spent the money to come to Edmonton. How could the interview in Hamilton have gone the way it did and not result in an offer? Despite my extensive experience with failure up until that point, I still harboured sentiments of this kind. I remember tempering my expectations with practical caveats – there were no guarantees, I MIGHT not get any phone call or I might end up on a waitlist. For all of these reasons, it made sense to come to Edmonton (notwithstanding the cost) and pursue an opportunity with the Alberta Justice Department. I finished the last sip of my Pepsi tall boy, got under the covers, double checked the alarm clock and drifted off to sleep.
I woke up fifteen minutes before the calls from southwestern Ontario were scheduled to begin. Propping myself up onto a pillow and wiping the sleep from my eyes, I nervously checked the time and wondered how quickly I could get my hands on a tie before the Alberta Justice interview. That anxiety was quickly replaced by the standard anxiety of waiting by the phone. That nervousness was, in turn, replaced by more ruminating about the cost of this trip and whether it was warranted. I wondered if I would like articling in Hamilton. The people at the firm seemed nice and the area of law was up my alley. What follows is a small chunk of inner monologue from those few moments.
“Still, though, Hamilton? I wonder what the housing prices are like. Could I still get a job in Toronto if I wanted? Why did Hamilton people get so jealous of Toronto? Would my status as a Mississaugan inoculate me from anti-Toronto sentiments? Are there any cute girls in Hamilton? Were they cool? Was I cool? What kind of food could I get there? What time is it, anyway?”
It was 7 AM. I rubbed my hands together and made sure my ringer was on and that I had bars. 7:05 struck. Then, 7:10. 7:15, 7:30 and 7:45 all came and went. There was complete and total silence. I grabbed my tablet and checked both of my “professional” e-mails. The silence was just as deafening digitally as it was telephonically. I got up and gave myself a shake. Silly as it was, I was in slight amount of denial. They must have misplaced my number. The hiring partner is stuck in traffic or facing an emergency. I have the date and time of call day wrong. An earthquake had struck Hamilton and the city was now underneath Lake Ontario.
Instead, I just wasn’t offered a job. I never ended up hearing a word from that firm. In the months following, a few of my friends asked me if I had ever followed up with anyone from the firm. I never did and these same friends suggested that I may have missed an opportunity to retain some networking benefits. That may be, but there is something particularly abhorrent to me about continuing to grovel and look for scraps after having been led on and offered nothing. I did not have it in me to e-mail or telephone that firm and thank them for the privilege of being rejected. Whether that is taking things a bit too personally or treating this process like I am an entitled brat, I do not know. I will say that I likely would have responded (and actually HAVE responded with other firms) if I had been sent a rejection e-mail or received a phone call to that effect. I think that this entire process requires hard work and perseverance, but it does not and should not require you becoming some kind of shameless whore.
In any event, I did not have much time to ponder the injustice of the cosmos. I had much more pressing concerns, such as acquiring a tie. I had discovered a men’s clothing boutique about a block away from my hotel the night before. As I mentioned, nothing in the core of Edmonton appeared to open any earlier than 10 AM. My interview was only an hour after that, so there was no time to lose. I paced impatiently outside the storefront of the boutique until a well-dressed, middle age man approached and unlocked the door. Rushing in, I bid the storeowner good morning and jogged to the tie racks. As the shopkeep turned on the lights and began to prepare for the business of the day, I frantically examined the ties for the colour that I needed. Selecting one that seemed fitting, I moved to approach the register. I figured that a tie would not be prohibitively expensive. As an after thought, I looked at the price tag.
Twenty minutes later, I sprinted into downtown Edmonton’s local Hudson’s Bay Company. My mission? Find and purchase a tie whose acquisition would not qualify me immediately for welfare. Spotting a suitable candidate, I quickly confirmed that its price was a fifth of that at the men’s boutique. Running like the crippled wind back to my hotel, I wiped the sweat from my brow, donned my suit and quickly relearned how to tie a tie via Youtube. As I struggled with a Half-Windsor knot, my cell phone rang. At this point, I had about 20 minutes to get to my interview. Luckily, the hotel where I was staying was close to the offices of Alberta Justice. I answered my phone (slightly disappointed that the caller ID did not display a Hamilton number) and noted with slight confusion that it was someone from Alberta Justice itself on the other end. Introducing herself, the woman calmly informed me that the interview location specified on all previous correspondence was wrong. Instead, she gave me a corrected address, politely apologized for the inconvenience and wished me luck in my interview. I am not exaggerating when I tell you that this was, at most, twenty minutes before the interview was scheduled to start.
If I was someone prone to panic attacks, this is what I imagine one would feel like. I calmly thanked the representative from Alberta Justice and, hands shaking, typed the new and improved address into Google Maps. By the grace of God, the correct location was not very far from the location that I had been given originally. Still, there is something to be said for the utility of advanced notice and proper logistical details in a situation like this. I completed my tie knot, checked to see how much sweat had seeped into my dress shirt and strode off to the interview. I sped walk with expertise, hit many favourable traffic lights and made it to the appropriate building in good time.
Riding the elevator to the floor I had been instructed to get off at, I walked into a reception area and stated my business to the lady behind the counter. She informed that I was in the right place and that the interviewers would be with me shortly. Before I sat down, she informed that the office was running a bit behind and that my interview might be a few minutes late. I thanked her and sat down. It was 11 AM, exactly. I waited. And waited. I won’t bore you with the details of what I thought about as I waited. Suffice it to say that it was 11:40 AM before a gentleman came from the back office to introduce himself to me and lead me to the interview. By that time, the next hopeful had already shown up in the waiting room. We sat awkwardly beside one another and did not make conversation.
What was particularly bewildering about this single encounter was its briefness. I had, for whatever reason, impressed the reviewers of the paper applications enough to be granted an in-person interview for this position. With that considered, it makes sense to assume that the department was at least somewhat interested in me before this encounter. Despite these axioms, the interview lasted just longer than ten minutes and absolutely shorter than fifteen. I’ll be the first to admit when I have screwed something up badly, but there was honestly nothing I could have done in that brief a time period to justify this absurd length (or lack thereof). I was asked one or two questions about my interests, whether I was a good public speaker and if I was prepared for Edmonton winters (har har). That was it.
I was then given the opportunity to ask questions. Perhaps mostly relevantly, I inquired about the structure and timeline for second interviews. This position had advertised that, if the powers that be were interested, they would invite you for a second interview. The advertisement had been silent as to the time period between the first and second interviews (as well as how soon applicants might hear about their success at the first interview). Not only was I interested in the answer to this from an employment perspective, I had not yet booked my flight home and I only had my hotel until the next day. Nodding his head in an understanding fashion, the younger of the two interviewers stated that they would make their decisions by the end of that day and would let applicants know the following morning. Handing me their business cards, I was ushered back out to the reception area.
This was one of those situations where the interview had gone neither horribly nor spectacularly. I felt somewhat annoyed at the lack of chance I had to make an impression. Regardless, the job itself was very appealing and I had no choice but to play ball. I took the rest of the day to hit the hot tub, hang out with law friends in Edmonton and enjoy a dinner out. Before going to bed that night, I made the executive decision to lengthen my stay in Edmonton for at least another 24 hours. The hotel where I was staying could not be booked for another night at the same, cheap rate I had booked it for originally. As such, I experimented with Hotwire and managed to snag a cheap room at the Holiday Inn just a few blocks away. The best part was that this location also had a hot tub. Everything was coming up Whibbs.
The next morning, feeling more than a little like a drifter, I packed up my suit and made the short walk over to the Holiday Inn. Checking in at about noon, I deposited my luggage in my room and checked my phone and e-mail for any word from Alberta Justice. Nothing. I figured that worrying was not going to do any good, so I took the rest of the day to explore the ninth wonder of the modern world: West Edmonton Mall. Going there on a Tuesday afternoon was like wandering through an abandoned stadium. Regardless, it was fun in a solitary type of way and I almost spent money on the indoor rides. Marshalling my adulthood, I instead grabbed a bus back to my hotel. By the evening, I was getting a little panicky again. I couldn’t really afford to spend another night at a hotel and I still had not figured out a return flight. My worst was fear was making plans to fly home and THEN hearing about a second interview.
The next morning, I checked out of my hotel and essentially became homeless for a few brief hours. I threw my suit bag over my arm, hoisted my backpack onto my shoulders and beelined to a familiar hub for most drifters and ne’er do wells – I went to a Tim Hortons. Sitting down with an ice-cold chocolate milk, I signed onto Tim’s complimentary wifi. There was still no word from Alberta Justice. Feeling desperate, I wrote an e-mail to the address that had first contacted me to schedule an interview. It’s difficult to say for sure, but I estimate that I spent a good 45 minutes drafting a five-line e-mail asking if offers for second interviews had gone out. I was very conscious of the phrasing of my e-mail so as to avoid asking someone to violate any kind of confidentiality. I did not even ask if I had been selected for a second interview, just if those offers had gone out. I hit “Send” and began to wait.
As it turns out, I needn’t have been so careful. Fifteen minutes after my initial correspondence, I got a reply saying “Hello, Stephen. Unfortunately, you were not selected for a second interview. Best wishes, etc.” It is unclear when (or if) I would have found this out, had I not asked. I was rather numb at this point and actually kind of amused at the brusqueness of it all. Signing onto Expedia, I was able to find a flight to Toronto from Edmonton for that evening. As a bonus, it wasn’t even terribly expensive. You really must count all of the little victories in this life.
I used a mixture of trains and buses to make my way to Edmonton’s airport. My flight was scheduled for 6 PM and I must have gotten to the airport for 1 PM or so. I enjoyed a light lunch at the airport Montana’s with the last bit of money I had. Despondently browsing social media s I munched my club sandwich, I noticed a headline: “What Ever Happened to Balloon Boy?”. I read the article and wondered idly if I might be better off inventing prototype hot air balloons and trying to get on Wife Swap.